The travel rules for 26 European nations will be updated at the end of 2022 to include a new electronic visa waiver.
Many people from around the world will be able to register online with the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). This will allow them to visit these countries visa-free.
The ETIAS visa waiver will be automatically read when the traveller’s passport is scanned at immigration. The idea is to provide an additional layer of border security, while making it simple for international passengers to travel to Europe.
The scheme will apply to short-term visits to the 26 member states of the Schengen Area — an open borders region of Europe that includes France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Switzerland, and the Scandinavian countries.
The Schengen Area is closely connected to the European Union (EU), although they are not the same thing. While most EU member states are also part of Schengen, 5 currently are not. The Republic of Ireland opted out, while Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania are expected to join Schengen at some point in the future.
In addition to 22 of the 27 EU countries, Schengen also includes the 4 member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA): Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.
When the ETIAS becomes available, it will grant travellers access to all 26 nations. Once a passenger has arrived in a Schengen country and cleared border control, they may travel freely around the bloc, with no further checks between member states.
The new visa waiver will allow travellers to take a European holiday to any and all of these countries without having to apply for a visa.
Business travellers will also be able to take advantage of the ETIAS visa waiver. It will allow trips to Schengen countries for tourism or business, and will also be needed to transit through any of the member states en route to another destination.
The ETIAS platform is expected to be launched towards the end of 2022.
To be considered eligible for visa-free travel with this waiver, international passengers must have a passport issued by a country on the ETIAS list.
EU and EFTA authorities have so far announced around 60 eligible countries. Most of these are in the Americas, but also include a number of countries in Asia, Oceania, and other parts of Europe.
Southern Asia is currently under-represented on the list, with Malaysia being the only country in the region whose citizens will be able to apply when the system is launched. Nationals of other countries will have to continue to go through the tourist visa application process to take a European holiday.
However, it is likely that as the project moves forward, more countries will be added to the list, making it easier than ever to visit Europe for tourism or business.
The introduction of this new visa waiver system marks a big change in the rules for travelling to Europe. Until now, passengers have either needed to apply for a visa or have required just their passport, depending on their nationality.
The past few years have seen many changes in the rules and regulations for international travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Europe has been no exception: various countries have imposed travel restrictions, testing, vaccination requirements, and quarantine on arrival.
Although the situation is now improving and most restrictions have been relaxed, the situation is still not completely back to normal. For example, Portugal recently decided to extend its COVID-19 state of alert.
Many have assumed that the introduction of the ETIAS has been due to COVID-19, but this is not the case. The visa waiver for the Schengen region has been in the works for year, since before the pandemic began. The launch date has actually been delayed due to coronavirus.
The ETIAS was inspired by the ESTA visa waiver for the United States of America and other similar systems. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries have their own electronic travel authorisations (eTAs).
These platforms improve security in an era where international travel can be a vehicle for crime, terrorism, and human trafficking.
By requiring visa-exempt passengers to register their details, border authorities can run background checks and screen everyone coming into the country, and not just those who applied for a visa. This helps to identify and prevent risks to security.
For the vast majority of travellers, this barely affects their trip. Passengers simply fill in a quick form online before they set off and, depending on their destination, may have to print off a copy of their travel authorisation to show at the border. In other cases, such as the ESTA for the US, they simply scan their passport upon arrival, as normal.
The success of electronic travel authorisation systems in other countries around the world led European countries to think about creating their own.
Due to the open borders between the Schengen states, the bloc made the decision to cooperate and create a single electronic visa waiver for all 26 members. This initiative became the ETIAS.
After many years of planning, the platform is nearly ready. Unless there are further delays, the system is set to go live at the end of the year.
Once it is launched, eligible passengers will have to register to visit any of the 26 European countries in question without having to get a visa.